The Past 6 Months
Right before I started this year, I counted down to midnight like everyone does every year with a heart full of hope for meaningful change and countless new memories with friends and family.
And shortly after, I got my wish. ⭐
In January I traveled to Barcelona, Spain with a couple peers from work to attend the ACM Fairness, Accountability, and Transperency* (FAT*) Conference 2020 (now ACM FAccT). Although I’ve attended conferences in the past, this was the first time that I truly felt apart of the computing community in the context of FAccT. Navigating this space as a professional was unlike my previous experiences. Just by being in the midst of so many others who have made a difference in the field, I felt empowered to meaningfully contribute to computing in my own way.
Months later, I still do! Delivering my thesis gave me a taste of that amazing feeling. Graduating from undergrad did too. And now, working as a data scientist, I get to experience that nearly everyday. But attending this conference was wholly different than my previous experiences. I think it must have been the Spanish sun! ❤️
The papers I read, the food I ate, the people I met, the locations I visited, and the history I had the opportunity to take in made for a trip that I continuously look back on fondly. On my 8 hour flight back home, I found it hard to edit my #NaNoWriMo 2019 draft (I finished with ~40k words!). Instead, I was wide awake trying to figure how to continue the conversations I had and to keep the ball moving forward towards change my peers and I could potentially carry out.
In February, I got back to work and continued the spring semester in my graduate degree program. I took a course in machine learning and another in mobile and ubiquitous computing. Both were eye-opening experiences and every class was genuinely a ton of fun. The former is like the bread and butter of data science; the latter gave me a ton of new ideas for how I could deploy a mobile applications of my own using the range of sensors that most people now have by default in their cellphones and other devices.
By the end of February however, I hit a road-block. I had a health scare that put everything on pause. But even after getting scans done, my doctors couldn’t pinpoint the specific cause.
Shortly after, the impact of Covid-19 was felt across the United States. School was transferred online; working from home became the new normal. Naturally, social distancing, not being able to physically be at school or work, and just not being able to be in stores, parks, and other public spaces with friends and family was rough as the weather warmed up. This was not ideal but it was okay. I was okay. By staying home, I understood how it could help keep immunocompromised people, me, and my friends and family safe in the long-run.
I was in self-quarantine for about 40 days before tragedy struck my family: I lost my paternal grandmother. She was the epitome of unconditional love and kindness. And soon afterwards, I lost my paternal grandfather. He was a spiritual anchor in my family. He always knew how to make everyone laugh. It’s funny but I always felt like they would live forever. Despite their passing, I still feel their love. I’m grateful to carry their memories. I am so lucky to have had them and so many others who are still with me.
Remembering the Highs Amid the Lows
As countless Black deaths and a myriad of inequities showcase the risks and harms that Black people have been historically facing in the U.S., it is impossible to escape the fact that an innumerable number of Black people are going through difficulties at the moment. As the pandemic heightens the severity of what’s been going on, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to find support and aid from allies, peers, family, and friends alike. Without the help from my community, managing the multi-faceted stress of the past handful of weeks would have been an unimaginable ordeal alone.
If anything, these times have helped to highlight that finding ways to support Black people through the means of my career, education, and skills is the very thing that I can do help to produce change in my field because ultimately, data science is not as diverse or accessible to marginalized people as it could ideally be.
In retropsect, I’ve realized that I often navigate spaces where there aren’t many other Black voices. I don’t get the opportunity to see other people like me in data scientist roles often. This was true at FAT* 2020. The same is true in my computer science graduate program. Furthermore, there are very few Black data scientists that I know of both online and personally. Nevertheless, I still think it is possible to make a difference by doing what I can from where I am and reaching out to peers for help along the way.
Nothing for now. Pouring from an empty cup is impossible. Consequently, for the first time in nearly a decade, I’m comfortable saying that there is nothing on my to-do list. To be frank, I’m tired. Spending time away from work and school after losing family has allowed me to understand that I’ve been neglecting ME in the equation of my life. By uncoupling my sense of worth from productivity and always having something to do, I’ve come to the conclusion that making sure you’re alright first is a worthwhile and extremely necessary pursuit before piling tasks on.
Adding in substantially more time to care for myself and learning to let others help me amid sadness, pain, and stress is…not what I was thinking about on December 31st. Moving forward, I hope I can find a balance that works for me so that next year, I can build on what makes sense.
Open Your Purse 👛
No matter what, it’s still important to do what can be done. Right now, there are countless ways to help Black people suffering right now through online donations. Raising money to help Breonna Taylor’s family get justice for her murder is one way. Donating to The Okra Project, an organization established to support Black Trans people through food, is another way.